September 20, 2020

Reel variety Year-end films aren’t just for Oscar anymore

If you think the popcorn powerhouses are out of the way now that fall is upon us, think again. After a record-breaking summer, Hollywood is set to unleash 150 new movies in theaters over the next four months. Some will offer the sort of nostalgic ring that keeps box office registers ringing, while other, smaller films will add necessary weight to the lingering effects of summer’s hot air.

It’s one of the best fall lineups in recent memory, a season that includes something for everyone, from the eagerly anticipated magic of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” which opens for muggles everywhere Nov. 15, to Disney’s unexpected collaboration with Spike Lee in “The 25th Hour,” a drama featuring Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman that drops, rather fittingly, on Dec. 25.

Speaking of Spikes, Spike Jonze’s new head trip, “Adaptation,” hits theaters Dec. 6, with Nicolas Cage in dual roles and Meryl Streep as his co-star.

Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman team up again – this time with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter – in “Red Dragon” (Oct. 4), a thriller based on Thomas Harris’ 1981 best-selling novel of the same name. Adding vinegar to “Red Dragon’s” dish is Emily Watson and Ralph Fiennes, but don’t expect to see Clarice or her bad shoes. “Red Dragon” goes back to Lecter’s early years, long before the fava beans that created the gas that was last year’s “Hannibal.”

On Dec. 25, Leonardo DiCaprio celebrates the rebirth of his career with the help of two films, Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me if You Can,” a movie co-starring Tom Hanks about the con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., and Martin Scorcese’s long-delayed drama, “Gangs of New York,” a 19th century scrabble between Irish and Italian gang members coming to fisticuffs over territorial rights in good old New York.

Too much Leo? Take heart. The tail end of the year also finds Peter Jackson back with his adaptation of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” on Dec. 18, Steven Soderbergh’s science fiction remake of “Solaris,” with George Clooney, on Nov. 27, the new Star Trek movie, “Star Trek: Nemesis,” on Dec. 13, and the new James Bond film, “Die Another Day,” on Nov. 22.

With Halle Berry as the new Bond girl and a cameo by Madonna as a martial arts expert who gives Bond a few pointers on what to do with his hands, “Die Another Day” promises to leave grown men weeping in the aisles. Its theme song, also performed by Madonna, is set to be released in November and is already generating great buzz.

Not one to offer just a cameo for the price of a song, Madonna also can be seen Oct. 11 in “Swept Away,” her husband Guy Ritchie’s remake of Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 Italian comedy, “Swept Away…by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August,” which starred Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. In Ritchie’s version, Madonna takes the Melato role as an older, hot-tempered rich witch stranded on an island with a younger, swarthy sailor, who just happens to be played this time out by Giannini’s real-life son, Adriano.

Other pop stars keeping it real in theaters include rap star Eminem, who stretches it as an angry hip-hop youth coming to terms with his mother (Kim Basinger) in Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile” (Nov. 8), Jennifer Lopez with Ralph Fiennes in the Cinderella story “The Chambermaid” (Dec. 13), and Marilyn Manson, of all people, with Charlton Heston and Dick Clark, of all people, in Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (Oct. 4), a documentary of sorts that finds Moore taking on gun violence in America.

Who’s scrambling for Academy gold? Take your pick.

In “Moonlight Mile” (Sept. 27), Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal appear in a three-hanky drama about love, sudden death and its ramifications; Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger could tap dance their way to Oscar’s side in Rob Marshall’s remake of “Chicago” (Dec. 27); Nicole Kidman stars as Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” (Dec. 27); Spanish director Pedro Almodovar follows his Academy Award-winning “All About My Mother” with “Talk to Her” (Nov. 22); and in “The Banger Sisters” (Sept. 20), Susan Sarandon gets another shot at Oscar, this time with the help of Goldie Hawn, in a comedy about two former groupies working hard to stay hip past their prime.

To hear Miramax tell it in the promotional push for its new film, “The Four Feathers” (Sept. 20), which stars Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson, they’ll also be in the running for Academy consideration this year, but what else is new?

Also likely to be putting a polish on their acceptance speeches are Jack Nicholson in his new film, “About Schmidt” (Dec. 25); Michelle Pfeiffer in her new film, “White Oleander” (Oct. 11); Alan Parker with his death-row suspense drama, “The Life of David Gale” (sometime in December), which stars Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney; and perhaps even Roman Polanski with his film “The Pianist,” which won this year’s prestigious Palme d’Or for best picture at Cannes.

The year’s most terrifying possibility of somebody achieving Academy approval goes to Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” (Oct. 18), a movie about an irritable salesman played by Sandler whose serious anger-management issues are quelled by the love of a woman played by Emily Watson. After a best director win for Anderson at Cannes, the film’s studio, Columbia, is positioning the drama, Anderson and Sandler – yes, Sandler, he of “Little Nicky” fame – for Academy consideration.

Other potentially nausea-inducing events can be found in this season’s thrillers, the most promising of which include Luis Mandoki’s “Trapped” (Sept. 20), with Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love; Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” (Oct. 18), which stars “Mulholland Drive’s” Naomi Watts; Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth,” with Colin Farrell, on Nov. 15; and Brian De Palma’s “Femme Fatale” (Nov. 8), a brooding, noirish ride that promises style and murder in the form of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Antonio Banderas.

Good children who behaved over the summer should find a few gifts under the box office tree this season, particularly with Tim Allen donning the fat suit once again in “The Santa Clause 2” (Nov. 1), Roberto Benigni returning with his version of “Pinocchio” (Dec. 25), and the wildly expensive animated film “Treasure Planet” (Nov. 27), which cost $100 million to produce. Unfortunately, those naughty, brattish children who wouldn’t listen to their parents or clean up their rooms will likely get the lumps of coal they deserve in the new Pokemon film, “Pokemon 4Ever” (Oct. 11), a title that makes the film sound like a threat, which, if you’ve seen the three previous films in the series, it is.

Also this fall are a number of comedies and romantic comedies, the most notable of which are Reese Witherspoon’s new movie, “Sweet Home Alabama” (Sept. 27); Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock in “Two Weeks Notice” (Dec. 20); Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson in “I Spy” (Nov. 1); Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal in “Analyze That” (Dec. 6); and Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt in “The Tuxedo” (Sept. 20), which finds Chan sporting a high-tech, billion-dollar monkey suit that fuels him with the sort of superhuman strength he can’t fully manage or control.

After the big fat success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” some independent films also are showing strength – and at last getting the attention they deserve.

Highlights this fall include Salma Hayek as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Julie Taymor’s “Frida” (Oct. 25); the new Atom Egoyan film, “Ararat” (Nov. 29); Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” gets a fresh print on its 50th anniversary in November; and on Sept. 20, one of our best actresses, Catherine Deneuve, stars opposite seven other women in Francois Ozon’s “8 Women,” a Hitchcockian thriller about a wealthy man’s murder that, like so many independent and foreign films, probably won’t see the light of day in Bangor – but, hey, theater owners and managers can feel free to prove me wrong.

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, occasionally on E! Entertainment’s “E! News Weekend,” Tuesdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5” and Thursdays on “NEWS CENTER at 5:30” on WLBZ-2 and WCSH-6. He can be reached at

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